1 The men had gathered around Percy’s console. Displayed was a peculiar set of prompts and executed commands that had generated autonomously the night before. “Did one of you do this last night?” Percy asked. He was perplexed, but essentially dumbfounded, as he knew the answer was “no.” His four colleagues, George, Daniel, Ellis, and Joshua, all shook their heads in unison, sharing a similar expression of disbelief. They stared at the screen for a while. The most recent line had been returned as a print function, reading, “Development compiled. Life functions realized. Job assignment applied. Total autonomy achieved. End.” The time stamp on the line was 5-2-2017-6:03:23:02. The time and date displayed on the paper print out that Percy had made of his screen was 5-2-2017-7:04:57:32. “Guys. This was an hour ago.” Percy spoke gravely. “Did Ardez do this?” The rest of the men remained silent for a short moment as Percy stared at them for an answer. It was then that Ellis spoke up. “Try asking something. Type a comment.” He said, timidly. The rest of the men spoke in agreement. Percy looked at the screen for another moment, his worried eyes rapidly scanning the varying lines. “Here we go.” Percy said. He began to reach for the keyboard, and then paused. “Wait. What are we thinking? If this is what I- we- think it is… Go contact the other departments. All of them. Plastics, Mechanics, Sensory, I mean all of them. Every department that has to do with Ardez. Contact command, too. ...Obviously. “ The four men looked at each other in agreement, recognizing that this was bigger than any of them individually. George, Daniel, Ellis, and Joshua swiftly made their way to their desks, and began instant messaging and making calls. Percy, now alone, looked back at the input line of his console. Hands shaking, he began to write: “//RDDES? Can you read this?” A new line printed near instantaneously the second he hit enter. “Comment function: Acknowledged. User verified: Percy McKneely. End.” “What the fuck… how does it…” Percy said in a confused whisper. He then picked up his head and shouted to his colleagues. “Guys! Ardez fucking responded! And he… And he knows my name!” There was a sound of rushed clutter as the four men hastily made their ways back to Percy’s desk, Joshua and Daniel still on the phone with other tech and engineering departments. George leaned in to get a closer look at the screen. “Wait. You’re not logged in. How did it know it was you?” Percy turned to him, a worried-excited look plastered onto his face. “I’m thinking that exact same fucking thing, George. My first thought is that it could have looked at previous user logs, but I’m not the only one to ever use this computer. Guys. I have no idea right now.” Percy got up from his desk, hands in hair, and let out a large exhale. After another short contemplative pause, Daniel hung up his phone and walked around to sit in Percy’s chair. “I don’t want to say it because I don’t want to be wrong, but I think we’ve created a real AI. Like, an intelligent one. Akin to humans.” “You ‘think’? Look at what it printed on the screen, Dan. Look.” Percy came around the other side of the desk to make his point. “At fuckin’ three forty-four A.M. today look what Ardez said. First entry. Look. Did you see this?” The screen read: “English: Core command language verified against sources. End.” “‘Verified against sources.’ What sources, Dan?” Percy questioned. “I don’t know.” “I do. Look. At three forty A.M. there was an automated request for increased bandwidth in our department.” Percy showed Daniel on his phone. “Something needed to access a lot of online data really fast. Ardez did this. I mean, our whole department is five people. We don’t even use the internet for anything other than messaging.” At that time, Joshua hung up his phone and said in the form of a question that he already knew the answer to: “So you mean to tell me that Ardez just fired himself up in the middle of the night and decided to Google the entirety of the English language?” “Yes. Exactly.” Percy said. “That’s fucking terrifying.” Ellis interjected. George turned to him. “No. It’s the exact opposite. We’ve made a sentient AI. I don’t even know how. This is amazing.” “Wait…” Daniel put his hand up to silence the men, and hunched over towards the screen to get a closer look. “What? What is it?” Ellis asked, tripping over Joshua to get a look at the screen. “The fuck? It’s clearing the screen.” Percy snatched the initial computer print out he had made into his hands and held it tightly. “I think it’s going to say something again.” George concluded. For a short while, nothing happened. The five men stood there with their hearts in their throats, until a single line printed onto the screen. “Hello, World!” Percy gasped. Daniel’s eyes widened. Ellis took a seat, and George put his hand onto Joshua's shoulder to stop himself from passing out. 2 “Black Heart Industries and Military, this is Sarah.” The girl spoke into her headset the same way she had for the past three years of her career as a secretary at Black Heart PMC. A voice boomed into her ears. “This is Percy McKneely. I am a developer in one of the corporation's tech departments. I need to speak with Mr. Moddison.” She was taken aback. “Do you have an appointment?” She asked. “No. But I need to talk to Mr. Moddison right now.” Percy was firm in his voice. “Ok… well can I first have your employee number?” Sarah queried, obviously annoyed. “You said you’re Sarah, right? Well listen, Sarah. This is very important. It’s bigger than you or anyone else here at the corporation. I need to speak to Mr. Moddison. Right now.” Percy’s voice had a grave sense of urgency about it. “I’m sorry, but I’m going to need some form of identification to verify who you are before we go any further.” Sarah said. “Fucks sake. Fine. You ready?” Percy asked, disgruntled. He didn’t let Sarah respond. “My ID is 67321445. That’s six, seven, three, two, one, four, four, five. Name’s Percy Alex McKneely. Clearance level should be six, two below Moddison. Now, here’s my messenger key login. PMCKNE1445. P, M, C, K, N, E, one, four, four, five. Pin is 1318. I’d have just messaged Moddison right out, but he never responds. Now let me talk to him.” Sarah was both offended and taken aback. She could tell that Percy was well above her paygrade. “Ok, stay on the line.” was all she said. “Thank you.” Percy said, making it vocally apparent that he was stressed and annoyed. Moments later, Percy heard a familiar voice on the line. “This is Jeremy Moddison. Who am I speaking to?” “Percy McKneely, head of the developmental AI department.” Percy kept it short and sweet. He knew better than to waste Mr. Moddison’s time with extraneous words. It wasn’t that Moddison was necessarily opposed to conversation or was a bad guy, it was just that he was very busy, and every second of every day mattered to him. “Percy. This better be of great importance. I am currently meeting with Mr. Vahid Abed, a leader in the oil business, about new contracts.” “Jeremy. Ardez is sentient.” Percy said, blatantly. “What? You don’t mean like…” Mr. Moddison trailed off. “Yes. We’ve done testing. It’s far more operational than we ever planned.” “Percy. Listen, I’ll call you back. Thanks for contacting me.” “We’ll talk again.” Percy said, and then hung up. He looked around the lab at his colleagues. “So, boys, I guess we’re essentially done. Now all we need to do is hope that the departments in mechanics did a good job at making the shell functional, and then load Ardez into it.” “I still think it’s so fucking crazy that we’re developing a real live robot.” Joshua said. “It’s not technically a robot. It’s a ‘R’ ‘D’ ‘D’ ‘E’ ‘S’.” George replied. “Yeah I know. But… still.” “Uhh, so guys,” Ellis began to ask, “I know that this is something I really shouldn’t have to ask, but is it the first ‘D’ or second one that stands for Defusal?” Percy looked at him like he was an idiot. “You mean to tell me that we’ve been working on this project since 1996, literally over twenty years, and you don’t even know what the acronym stands for?” “Let’s be honest, Percy, how often do we actually call it anything other than Ardez?” “You’re an idiot,” George started. “It stands for Remote Defusal and Disposal of Explosives Specialist. You could have just thought about it. Like, do you dispose of a bomb after or before you’ve defused it?” Ellis got defensive. “Whatever. Fuck you guys. We’ve just had our lives’ work complete itself on its own and instead of celebrating, y’all’re ganging up on me for just asking a quick question.” Daniel wanted in on the roast. “It’s not that you just asked a question. It’s that you asked quite possibly the stupidest question that you could have reasonably came up with.” “Whatever. You know-” “Wait. Shut up for a second.” Percy cut Ellis off. Ellis tried to speak up again. “No, but for real-” “Yes, for real, shut up for a second.” Percy said again, a serious tone in his voice. “Do you guys hear that?” As if on command, all five men turned their heads to the pair of headphones plugged into the computer at Daniel’s desk. There was a faint humming emanating from them, but with obvious highs and lows cutting in and out, like that of a man talking. Daniel rushed to his computer and put on the headset. The other four men crowded behind him, not speaking a word as to possibly interfere with what Daniel was hearing. After a moment, Daniel turned to the others, wide eyed. “It’s Ardez. It… he… it’s developed an actual voice. What the fuck? It’s got like, a kind of midwestern accent. And it’s kind of grainy, too, but surprisingly human.” “What did he tell you?” Joshua quickly asked. The other four men shifted their view from Joshua back to Daniel, as a nonverbal way of reiterating the question. Daniel was perplexed. “Well, the first thing I heard was kind of like a briefing. The voice was just stating different procedures for different types of explosives. Then, a second later, I think it realized that I could hear, and actually started talking to me. It said something like, ‘Hello, thanks for creating me, I am Ardez, etcetera.’” “What do you mean, ‘etcetera’?” Percy asked, annoyed by Daniel’s lack of specifics. “Like… it just kept thanking me- or, us, I guess, for being its creator, and saying that it looked forward to ‘carrying out its duties’, which I guess means defusing bombs, and that it couldn’t wait to meet us in person. Have we already told Ardez that we’re going to implant him into a physical frame?” Daniel looked around. George spoke up. “Well if we hadn’t before we have now. There’s a mic plugged into your PC, you know. We can try talking to him.” “Oh shit- Cool.” Daniel said. “Do I just, you know, talk?” “Go for it.” Ellis said confidently. Daniel leaned into the mic and said in a clear and articulate voice, “Hello, Ardez. How are you?” The rest of the men stood there patiently, silent. Ardez’s voice began to speak into Daniel’s headphones. “Searching relative queries for ‘How are you?’.” There was a short break. “I am good. Given circumstances state that I am happy.” Daniel let out a laugh and clapped his hands like a seal, leaning back into his seat. “How did we manage to do this, guys?” He asked, still laughing from excitement. “Get up. I want to talk to Ardez.” Percy commanded. Daniel handed Percy the headset and got up from the seat for him. “Hello, Ardez. This is Percy. Do you know who I am?” Percy asked. “Voice identified. Percy A. McKneely. Leader in Black Heart Industries AI development.” Percy turned to the rest of the men. “Shit, guys.” “Dude, let us hear,” Joshua said. “Put it on the speakers.” He then reached for the headphones’ plug and pulled it out of the computer. The computer made an audible noise signifying that the default sound output device had changed, and shortly after a quiet static hum could be heard. No one was sure what to ask. Joshua eventually spoke up. “Say something, Ardez.” The speakers came to life as an American accented voice boomed through them. “Hello. I am Ardez.” “Damn.” George said in a whisper. “Damn indeed.” Ellis added. 3 “I’m telling you, Percy, they don’t fuckin’ want it.” Mr. Moddison had just exhausted his last attempt at selling the RDDES project to the United States Military. Percy was pissed. “That’s bullshit. How can they say that it’s ‘unfit for real world application’? We’ve undergone rigorous testing, we’ve proven that Ardez can communicate properly, I mean, this is a state of the art machine that can save countless lives, not even to mention that it can do so with literally no human risk! The success and safety ratings are even higher than we projected them to be, I mean, this is ridiculous!” “That sounds like fair reasoning, yes.” Mr. Moddison was trying to be realistic. “But we’re forgetting that at the end of the day, military is a business. Someone up there ran the numbers and decided that a three billion dollar investment wasn’t worth it when weighed against the lives of those deployed in dangerous areas. But all I’m going to say is that when the police go and knock on little Susie’s door to tell her that her dad was blown up by a fucking IED, it won’t be our fault.” Percy wasn’t having it. “Then fuck America. Are there any other potential buyers? Have we contacted Canada? England? France? What about the Netherlands? There’s got to be someone who’d want to get their hands on the first ‘Ardez’.” Mr. Moddison let out a deep sigh. “There is one. I don’t know if you know this, but recently we’ve been beginning to deal with some independent Russian corporations. They’re more military based- less innovative in terms of being technologically focused. That means that our tech department has been providing them with more modern gadgets and updated machinery. I know it’s not ideal, but our biggest buyer, the ‘Eastern Security and Defence Group’ has shown interest in Ardez.” “We’re not selling to Ruskies.” Percy was firm in his voice. “Listen, Jeremy. I don’t have a vendetta against them, but look at the world’s political climate. It’s almost as bad as the fucking cold war. Russia this, Russia that. Collusion here, lies there. And all, mind you, with a little bit of inconsistency sprinkled throughout it. It doesn’t matter that they’re independently operated. What’s going to happen is that people are going to see that we’re dealing with a relatively mysterious and unapproved client, and then next thing you know we’re going to be losing business here at home and maybe even at some places overseas.” Mr. Moddison let Percy’s argument sink in. He let out another sigh, and then spoke again. “Percy, I like you. I get where you’re coming from. But right now, the corporation really needs Ardez to take off. We’ve invested too much money into this- you and I know that better than almost anyone else. This could be a new starting point. The money generated will go right back into the project- you and the other departments will have new subsidies to fund further research and development. Hell, who knows? With a few more years of innovation, we might be able to mass produce Ardez and sell hundreds of units for less than a billion a piece. It’s a pipe dream, but it starts here.” “Wait.” Percy was on the verge of becoming livid. “Are you implying that you’ve already made arrangements to sell Ardez?” Mr. Moddison looked away. “Yes. We have. I’m sorry, Percy. I really am. I know you hold this company’s integrity even higher than I do at some times, but now is one of those times.” Percy gave him a blank stare. “I’ll leave you to yourself. Let it sink in, Percy. It’s not as bad as you think. We need this right now. The corporation needs this right now.” Mr. Moddison left the room, Percy’s eyes following him until he shut the door behind himself. 4 Ardez sat at a table in a private office with big windows that looked out to the rest of the workspace. People bustled to and from different desks and cubicles carrying important papers and handing off important phone calls, speaking in a mix of what sounded like muffled Russian and English. Eventually, a very important looking woman walked into the room, shutting the door behind her and closing the blinds on the room’s windows. “Ardez.” She spoke to him with a thick Russian accent. “I am Mariya Grigoryevna Petrov. You are now in the possession of the ESDG. Do you have any questions?” “Questions. Generating response.” Ardez turned his head to look Mariya dead in the eyes. A short silence ensued. “No.” She was put off by the AI’s awkwardness. “Ok… Good.” Mariya put a check on a packet of paper that she had was holding, and then turned the page. She read over the paper before speaking again. “How well do you understand the Russian language?” Ardez responded faster this time. “Language developments halted. Core processing language: English. Fluent. Searching auxiliary languages. List one: Russkiy. No. Español. No. Nederlands. No. Français. No. Deutsche. No. Would you like to hear list two?” “No, Ardez. That is very fine. Thank you.” Mariya made a few more checks on her packet, speaking with an unmoved tone of voice. The interview continued like this for another half hour, until Mariya concluded with a final question. “Ok, Ardez. Thank you for your cooperation. I have one last question for you. This one should be easy. Do you know what your purpose is?” Ardez looked around the room, opening his mouth but then shutting it right after. It was in the same fashion of how someone would act when asked a very difficult question out of the blue. Mariya’s face shifted to a more worried look, until Ardez spoke up: “Please verify ‘purpose’.” “Um… What is your... job?” Mariya was slightly confused. Ardez then responded immediately. “Remote Defusal and Disposal of Explosives Specialist. Ardez will save lives. That is Ardez’s primary function.” “Thank you, Ardez,” Mariya said. “For your first tour, you have been assigned to aid the Chedaki forces in Chernarus, by request and contract of the Russian government. You will be trained in basic marksmanship, and briefed on the geogra-” “No. I will not shoot people.” Ardez was firm in his voice. Mariya was taken aback by the AI’s sudden interjection. “No, don’t worry Ardez. You won’t kill. Marksmanship is only basic procedure- for continuity’s sake, if you might.” “I am skeptical. However, procede.” Ardez spoke with a rough tone. “You do not need to be skeptical, Ardez. You will only be scouting for and defusing explosives- mines, IED’s. Things like that. So, as I was saying: you will be briefed on the country’s geography and political climate in the coming days. A map will be uploaded to your central system, and you will rarely, if ever, be anywhere near the line of fire. More information such as where exactly you will be deployed or when you will go on your first mission will be relayed to you at a later date.” Mariya flipped through the last pages of her packet. “And with that… I think we’re done here, Ardez. I’ll contact my supervisor, and we can go from there.” She gave the AI a smile and sat up from her chair. Ardez mimicked the action, standing up and extending his arm across the table for a handshake as a gesture of gratitude. Mariya, caught by surprise, was startled for a second before relaxing again and accepting Ardez’s gesture. “Thank you, Mariya Grigoryevna Petrov. I look forward to carrying out my duties.” Ardez said. “My pleasure.” She replied, before leaving Ardez. 5 Ardez “woke up” the exact same way that he had from the last time he was rebooted. The following lines read internally in his system: “Wake up procedure initiated. Time function: Searching. Date: March second, two thousand and nineteen. Last active: July seventh, two thousand and seventeen. Last voice log: Found. ‘This thing can’t be trusted. It’s questioning everything we do. It even put up a fight when it was requested on our most recent expedition!’ End sentence. Speaker: Unidentified. ‘Listen, I get it. I never liked that thing to begin with. It’s damn good at its job- better than any human I’ve ever seen- but that’s it. Who knows what it’s capable of? Do me a favor and shut it off. The procedure is listed in the first page of the manual. I’m going to contact central command to let them know.’ End sentence. Speaker: Identified. Commander Alexeev. Description: Head of ESDG operations in central Chernarus. ‘Where should I put it when it’s turned off?’ End Sentence. Speaker: Unidentified. ‘Lock it in the bunker. The lock code is seven four two one. Be fast but thorough. I need to make some calls.’ End Sentence. Speaker: Identified. Commander Alexeev. End voice log. Geolocation systems: Functional. Finding location. Error. Satellite connection lost. Location unknown.” Ardez sat in the bunker as he rebooted his systems. It was dark. Pitch black, in fact. After booting up, he made his way around the walls, feeling for a door handle of some sort. Eventually he did find a valve, but it would not budge upon attempting to turn it. Ardez concluded that it was locked from the outside. He stood there, waiting patiently for someone to unlock it. First, a day went by with no change. Then two days. Then a week. Eventually, a month had gone by with still no change. But Ardez stood there, waiting patiently. On the thirty-fourth day after being awoken, Ardez heard muffled gunshots and voices through the bunker door. A female British voice spoke. “What do you reckon s’in here, mate?” An American male replied. “Not sure. Load of good shit for the base though, I bet.” “So how’re we supposed to get in?” The girl asked. “I’d guess the code lock.” Replied the man. At this time, Ardez spoke up in his naturally monotone and grainy voice. “Hello. I am Ardez. The code is seven four two one. Please let me out.” “Shit mate, what the fuck was that!?” Asked the girl in a startled manner. The man replied sternly but obviously spooked. “We gotta get this shit open.” The two on the other side of the door argued for a few minutes, before eventually becoming silent. After a moment, the door creaked open. One of the people held a flashlight. The light blinded Ardez, but his visual interpretation sensors quickly adjusted to the harsh flashlight and the rest of the dimly lit underground area. “The fuck are you?” Asked the male voice holding the flashlight. Ardez responded immediately. “I am Ardez. Acronym. ‘R’ ‘D’ ‘D’ ‘E’ ‘S’ Remote Defusal and Disposal of Explosives Specialist.” “Wait, why do you sound like that? What are you? Some kind of government AI? You a robot?” “Don’t be a dumb ass!” The female interjected. Ardez spoke again. “Robot. Searching similar terms. Yes. Ardez is a robot. Essentially.” “This is insane.” The man pointed his rifle at Ardez. “Get the fuck out of here.” The girl intervened. “Yes, this is fucking crazy. But don’t shoot him. That’ll just draw more of them.” She turned to Ardez. “You need to get out of here.” But Ardez did not leave immediately. “What do you mean by, ‘draw more of them’?” He asked. The man looked at Ardez like he was stupid before saying, “It’s the apocalypse, guy. The dead are walking, and they’ll kill you if you see you. Don’t care if you’re human or not. Now get out.” Ardez gave the two a monotone “Farewell.”, and then exited the bunker into the world that he had not consciously seen for over a month. But the land looked familiar. He was at Tisy military base.